Nowhere does parties and festivals better than Sydney, where the arrival of summer signals the best time of year for fun and sun.
Words by Brian Johnston
The New Year’s fireworks in Sydney might be world famous: the mother of all parties, an epic night of nights during which a million people cram the foreshore to see US$15-million worth of fireworks go pop over the city’s spectacular harbour backdrop at midnight.
For Sydneysiders, however, New Year’s Eve is really just the opening salvo that announces summer has well and truly arrived. This is the season of brilliant blue sunshine, late brunches by the beach and long evenings in the restaurant-dense inner-city suburbs of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Paddington. Surf lifesavers plant their fluttering safety flags in the sand of the city’s beaches, open-air concert music drifts from parks, chattering latte-sippers sit at pavement tables and the iconic green Manly ferry echoes with the yelps of children freed from school.
A holiday feeling is in the air, and January sees Sydney at its warmest and finest. This is a city that shows its best side outdoors, and should be admired from a pavement café table, a towel on the beach, or the deck of a yacht in the harbour. To see how beautiful the city’s summer setting can be, take to water-hugging walking paths too. Just 20 minutes from the city centre, you can be strolling in Bondi, squinting at the blue Pacific Ocean, dodging joggers on the promenade and admiring surfers as they pirouette on the waves. With its surf-wear boutiques, fish-and-chip shops and string of ice-cream parlours, Bondi has the atmosphere of a small seaside town and coastal scenery to match.
Alternatively, take the half-hour ferry ride from downtown to Manly, another of Sydney’s laid-back seaside suburbs, this time spectacularly wedged on a peninsula between harbour and ocean. As you chug past the Opera House and mansion-dotted harbour suburbs through a jostle of colourful racing yachts, it’s easy to see why Sydney lays claim to being one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Once you get your bearings and see the sights, prepare to be entertained. Sydneysiders scarcely have time to recover from their New Year’s shenanigans when they’re gearing up for the exuberant Sydney Festival, which runs throughout most of January (January 7–29 this year). It’s a city-wide extravaganza of performing and visual arts from both established names and up-and-coming artists. You can expect everything from circus acts and classical concerts to cabaret shows and comedies. Events are held all over town, from the town hall to the city’s parks and, of course, at the jewel in the crown of arts venues, Sydney Opera House.
Every visitor ought to admire the Opera House from both inside and out: walk around into the adjacent Royal Botanic Gardens for perhaps the best outlook onto this iconic architectural masterpiece and the surrounding harbour. Walk around the foreshore in the other direction too, however, and into The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, established in 1799. This area under the shadow of the humpbacked Sydney Harbour Bridge really comes into its own in the lazy days of January.
Many of its Georgian- and Victorian-era houses have been imaginatively converted into restaurants, art galleries and shops, and its terrific weekend street market is sandwiched between historic sandstone buildings and surrounded by pubs and yet more eateries. Graceful yellow sunshades add a nautical feel to market stalls, which specialise in handicrafts, historic photographs, Aboriginal art, homewares and souvenirs. Buskers entertain the browsers, and smaller acts from the Sydney Festival sometimes put on performances.
The biggest event of summer, however, isn’t part of the Sydney Festival, though since it falls on January 26, it is absorbed within this merrymaking month. Australia Day, the national day celebrated across the country, is nowhere more extravagant and spectacular than in Sydney, with celebrations nearly all taking advantage of that scintillating harbour setting. For many Sydneysiders, it’s a chance to get picnicking and to head down to the main harbour’s foreshores for the Harbour Parade of flag-draped tall ships, public ferries and private yachts of all shapes and sizes. ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – the country’s so-called unofficial national anthem – will be sung. Things will be burnt on barbecues. The drinks will flow, and everybody will wake up the next day feeling dazed from sun and excess: it’s the classically laid-back way for Aussies to celebrate.
Darling Harbour, meanwhile, hosts an Australia Day Children’s Festival with music, entertainment, a water playground and a concert by beloved Aussie kids’ music group The Wiggles – plus a finale of fireworks at the family-friendly time of 9pm. At any time over summer, however, Darling Harbour is alive with family-oriented activities, sound-and-light shows and frequent fireworks, which seem to pop over the city skyscrapers on every other summer evening.
Darling Harbour is also home to attractions such as the National Maritime Museum – which features everything from old pearling ships to submarines and a naval destroyer – and Sydney Aquarium, with its walk-through underwater tunnels in tanks of sharks, turtles and manta rays. At night, the restaurants at Cockle Bay Wharf come alive: tuck into seafood risotto and a good Australian wine, with the lights of the city splashed across the sky as a backdrop.
Also in Darling Harbour is the traditional Chinese Garden, one of the best outside China. It’s miniature in size but packs in lakes, waterfalls, pagodas and a teahouse where you can nibble on oriental pastries. It’s a short walk to Chinatown, filled on summer evenings with diners enjoying deep-fried dumplings, noodles or Sichuan chicken in its restaurants and fast-food halls. And, for those in love with a festival, Chinatown is the place to be for Chinese New Year celebrations, the largest outside Asia. The events last three weeks and, with perfect timing, usually kick off just as the Sydney Festival is drawing to a close (January 27 this year). It’s an excuse for Sydneysiders to indulge in another whole round of cultural events, exhibitions, entertainment, street markets and a parade. There’s also a thrilling dragon-boat race featuring 20 paddlers to a boat and the sound of drums booming across the harbour as Sydney puts on yet another party.
Jakarta to Sydney
Flight Time 6 hour 15 minutes
Frequency 5 ﬂights per week
From Colours January 2017
5 Senses – Taste
Some Sydney streets have high concentrations of eateries, particularly lively on long summer evenings. Walk down
Victoria Street and Oxford Street in cool, arty Darlinghurst and choose anything from Balkan seafood to Cambodian
noodles. City-centre Liverpool Street is home to a row of Spanish restaurants and tapas bars. Other renowned eat streets are Macleay Street in Potts Point, the great-value King Street in funky Newtown, and Crown Street in Surry Hills.